The Petroc

Pre-Playoff NCAA March Madness Bracket Prediction

Chris Amaral '19, Staff Writer

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Despite it only being mid-February at the time of writing, one can still smell a whiff of that sweet sweet March Madness basketball. With buzzer beaters, upsets, and endless intrigue mere weeks away, I truly couldn’t contain myself, so I decided to make a full field of 68 outline to try and keep my excitement at bay until at least the play in games.

The Favorites

Virginia

Despite a recent loss to an unranked Virginia Tech team, the Cavaliers look like a team possessed this season. Their offense is nothing too special and they do lack some teeth around the glass, but their real shining feature is their defense, which only allows 52.8 points per game, good enough for top ranking in the country. This includes only allowing 36 points to Clemson, who were ranked 18 at the time of playing. Add in wins over other ranked programs such as Rhode Island and Duke, who were shockingly defeated at home by Virginia, and the Cavaliers look like a front-runner for the national title.

Michigan State

While Michigan State had two double digit losses to unranked teams, that Michigan State team looks like a shadow of the team that has hit the court for the past 8 games, all of which have been wins, the biggest of which coming against 3 ranked Purdue in Lansing. Miles Bridges is turning into a star for this Spartans team, averaging 17.8 PPG, 7.1 boards, and 1 block, but he is far from the only facet of the Spartans. MSU has five players averaging double-digit points and, more interestingly, averages the most assists of any team in the country per game, with 20.2 every night. Their 83.1 PPG is another staggering number, good enough for 25th in the country, so it will be interesting to see if they can continue their feverish momentum into the Big Ten Tournament, and after that, the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova

While it seems commonplace to see the Wildcats with a strong team and steaming towards a Final Four or National Title appearance, one shouldn’t be quite as bullish on their chances in this season. While they do average a staggering 87.8 PPG and have 6 players averaging double-digit points including 20 and 16 point contributions by Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, they allow 70.4 PPG, which isn’t an average that one would want for their defense. While they do have only two losses on the season, they are very ugly, one to an unranked Butler team where they gave up 101 points, and the other to a putrid Saint John’s team that has gone 2-11 in Big East play and went on an 11 game losing streak. So Villanova could end up being an early exit in this year’s tournament. Or they could go on a huge run to the national title again. It’s really anyone’s guess.

Xavier

Another Big East team, Xavier is riding a huge 8 game winning streak and is 11-2 in conference play and 23-3 overall. They also have the Villanova disease where they can really put up points (they average 84.7 a night) but can’t really play defense (they give up 74 a night). They have huge losses to Villanova and Arizona State by a combined 40 points and a 9 point loss to Providence. They work the ball around well, but they are a fairly one-dimensional team in terms of offense, with most of their points coming from Trevon Bluiett, who averages 18.9 PPG. If they are to bring the title back to Cincy, they are going to have to show other teams different looks on both offense and defense, as they won’t be likely to move on if they continue at the pace they are going at currently.

Cincinnati

Another team from the Blue Chip City is making noise in college basketball as the hottest team currently playing. After a pair of tough losses to ranked Xavier and Florida, Cincinnati has won 16 games in a row, albeit against lesser competition in the American Conference. They lay claim to the second best defense in the country, only allowing 55.9 points a game while scoring a respectable 76.5. They are a strong rebounding team, averaging 40.5 per game, which is 11th best in the country. However, these statistics could only be indicators of the poor quality of competition; their true test comes in the next few weeks when they play number 19 Wichita State home and away and, likely, in the American Conference Championship.

Purdue

The Boilermakers finally look like they have a team that can make a huge run at the tournament this season. While their last two games were losses to ranked competition, number 3 Michigan State and number 14 Ohio State, it is worth noting that those losses were by a combined 4 points and that the previous 19 went off without a hitch, including wins over then number 2 Arizona and then number 17 Louisville. Purdue could be a team that, if they get the lucky bounces, could end up taking down the nets at the end of March. They have an elite offense and defense, ranked 31st and 18th in the country independently and 4 players averaging double digit points, 3 of which average more than 15 a game. While they still need to test their metal in big games, the team from West Lafayette, Indiana could end up with a trophy in the cabinet.

Texas Tech

With an elite defense and respectable offense, the Red Raiders have built a reputation for themselves this year in the Big 12. With a 6-1 record versus ranked opponents, including victories over number 2 West Virginia and number 10 Kansas there are a lot of reasons to be excited in Lubbock this season. Keenan Evans’ 18.4 points a night has helped the team greatly and his continued production will contribute to a strong season.

Ohio State

After a brief hiatus, Ohio State has returned to the elite of college basketball. With a balanced mix of strong offense and defense, Ohio State has won its last 2 games versus ranked opponents, against number 3 Purdue and number 1 Michigan State. With bona-fide college star Keita Bates-Diop leading the charge with 19.9 points and 9 rebounds per game, Ohio State is perched atop the Big Ten, and they don’t look prone to leave considering their play versus other powerhouses in the conference.

Gonzaga

After a heartbreaking loss in the National Championship last year, Gonzaga are looking to surge back into the final round and get the job done. Their offense, including six double-digit scorers, is 7th best in the country and they are an elite rebounding team, the 13th best in the country. However, their defense is a bit on the lackluster side, ranked 78th in the country, and they are 1-2 in games versus ranked opponents, including a sixteen point loss to Villanova, not to mention a loss to unranked San Diego State and conference foe Saint Mary’s who were unranked at the time that they lost to them. If Spokane is going to have a champion, the Zags will have to beat real competition.

Auburn

Leading the charge in the SEC, the Tigers have been propelled by the 8th best offense in the nation led by Mustapha Heron and Bryce Brown’s combined 32.9 points per game. With a 2-0 record against ranked teams by a combined 21 points, there is little not to love about Auburn. However, with 3 losses to unranked teams and no top ten teams on their schedule, folks in Auburn should be cautiously optimistic about their team’s chances in the

 

Dark Horses

Clemson

Perched in second in the ACC, Clemson will attempt to challenge runaway favorites Virginia for the conference crown. However, Clemson is a weak offense that was absolutely exposed in their loss to Virginia, only scoring 36 points overall. They rely far too heavily on their starters, who each average double digit points, and get no production out of their bench, which averages a measly 15.3 points per game. While their defense is a strong one, 26th in the nation, they lack a real trademark win going 3-2 versus ranked squads, with all of their ranked wins coming against teams hovering around the 20th ranking. With a big test in the coming weeks against Duke, it remains to be seen if Clemson are a serious contender, or a team in limbo.

Duke

The Blue Devils are the prime example of a team that, when it is on, is better than every other team in the country bar none. Led by young star Marvin Bagley III and senior Grayson Allen, Duke is the best offense in the nation, second best rebounding team in the nation, and fifth in the nation for assists per game. They showed their true quality earlier in the season with wins over number 2 Michigan State and Number 7 Florida, as well as other wins versus lesser ranked teams such as number 24 Florida State and number 25 Miami.They are 4-2 versus ranked teams, but have lost their last two ranked games against hated rivals North Carolina and Virginia, the nation’s number 1. While the wins earlier in the season may fool you into thinking otherwise, Duke is still a team that has much work to do. They have five losses this season, three of which have come against in conference teams who are unranked who are at or below .500 in terms of conference winning percentage. So if Duke can sneak past small time competition, they have shown their talent against the big teams, so they could very easily end up in a Final Four situation.

Kansas

This season has been a whirlwind in Lawrence. The question of whether or Kansas can make a deep run in the tournament comes attached with another question: which Kansas shows up for the tournament? Is it the elite Kansas team that locked up Kentucky and West Virginia? Or will it be the Kansas team that lost by sixteen to unranked Baylor? If you look at the stats then you’ll see a strong offensive team with 5 players averaging double digits that lacks defense. If they are to make a deep run, the defense has to show up. End of story. They can put up points but they can’t play any meaningful defense.

North Carolina

The defending national champs have been very streaky this season and wildly inconsistent. They have wins over Duke and Clemson, but they have a loss against Wofford, who are 4th place in a mid-major conference. They had a 3 game losing streak, but they’re on a 4 game winning streak currently. They score like mad and they rebound like no other team in the country, but they have a defense that couldn’t stand up to a strong gust of wind. To keep it short and sweet, the Tar Heels will live and die by Luke Maye and Joel Berry II. The two combine for 35.8 points for UNC on a nightly basis, and Maye accounts for 10.4 rebounds per game. If they are to go anywhere,

Saint Mary’s

Simply put, the only real team that Saint Mary’s has played during this season is Gonzaga, who they are 1-1 against. They have a passable offense and an excellent defense that are very clearly inflated by the poor quality of the WCC teams that they play. They went 19 games without a loss before their streak was cut short by Gonzaga in their second meeting of the season, but likely not their last. They are led by Australian-born Jock Landale’s 22 points per game, but that is almost entirely irrelevant until he is showcased on a national stage. Saint Mary’s is a team that could surprise if their record truly reflects how good of a team that they are or they could be a team that fizzles out early in the tournament to a mediocre team from a major conference or a gritty team from a lesser conference.

 

The Surprises

Rhode Island

Rhode Island and Saint Mary’s are two teams that suffer from a similar problem: a lack of sample size. The Rams do have a win versus Seton Hall, who were ranked at the time that they played them. They have a pair of quality losses versus Virginia and Nevada, who are both recognized to be, at the very least, tournament entrants. They have a 16 game winning streak that they could carry into the conference playoffs if they truly are as good as 16th best in the country. However, they just haven’t played enough teams from major conferences to determine if they really are cut out for tournament play. They have played Providence and Alabama, splitting those games 1-1, but those are the only teams from major conferences that they have played. They don’t really excel in any single aspect of the game, with a pretty good defense and offense. The question is whether or not they can really get it done against teams from Power 5 conferences.

Arizona

Simply put, Arizona is a team that will rely on their two stars to get them anywhere in this season. They sit atop the PAC 12 thanks to the efforts of Allonzo Trier and DeAndre Ayton, who combine for 39.1 points per night. Their offense shoots 51.2% from the field. There isn’t much left to say about this team other than that they are likely the longshot team that is most likely to make it into the late stages of the tournament soley thanks to the NBA level talent they have on the roster.

Tennessee

Tennessee is a well rounded team team that has shown their ability to compete with big-time talent. However, they shoot relatively poorly from the field, 44.6%, and lack the scoring that other teams vying for an Elite Eight or Sweet Sixteen spot have. Tennessee is a dull-as-dishwater team that needs to hope for good matchups to progress to where they want to get to.

Wichita State

The Shockers have been a feature of the tournament in recent years and have become known for their deep runs in the tournament. This season, they are bolstered by an elite offense led by a veteran Landry Shamet. However, they have lacked much of the punch they have carried in recent years and have some ugly losses in conference. Their real test comes soon when they have to play a white hot Cincinnati team with a lot to prove.

West Virginia

The case of West Virginia is one of a plunge from grace. Firmly in the top 10 of the nation for weeks, the Mountaineers hit an extremely rough patch recently, losing 6 of their last 10, with all but two of those losses coming against unranked foes. Despite averaging a healthy amount of points, they shoot a dismal 43.4% from the field as a team, despite Jevon Carter’s mercurial play. While I doubt that they can return to the level that they were playing at prior to their recent rough patch, the Big 12 tournament gives them a chance to prove me wrong.

Texas A&M

The Aggies are a team this season that has been very streaky. They started the season winning 9 of their first ten games, which they followed up by losing their next 5. They aren’t anything too special on either side of the ball. They are a half decent defense with a mediocre offense. However, they are the 3rd best rebounding team in the country. They are 4-3 versus ranked foes, so their true quality remains to be seen. The main thing that is bogging them down is a dreadful 33.1% conversion rate on three pointers. They will have to improve that to stand much of a chance at the tournament.

Michigan

Michigan is an interesting team. They have been fairly consistent throughout this season, and have gone 14-4 in their last 18 games. This strong run is propelled by the tenth best defense in the country. However, they are a team that lacks any real physicality at the glass, and that doesn’t really score enough points to win games if they come up against an elite offense. They are 1-3 against ranked opponents, losing both of their games against Purdue and one against North Carolina, but winning against a Michigan State team that many favor for the tournament crown. If they are to go far in the tournament, it will be exclusively down to their defense, as they haven’t won a game where their opponent has scored more than 75 points.

Oklahoma

The Sooners are almost the exact opposite of Michigan, as they sport the best offense in the country, but also its 337th best defense out of 351. They clean the glass well, 20th best in the country in rebounds, but their defense has really hurt them, as, in their last 10 games, there has been one game where they allowed less than 70 points. 7 of those games have been losses. They are led by Trae Young, who has exploded onto the scene as a freshman as the nation’s leading scorer and assist maker. Their recent putrid run of form will likely take them out of the top 25, but I believe that this Oklahoma team can make a run if Trae Young plays absolutely out of his mind in March.  The sooners are best suited with a Trae Young led offense that allows their ball dominant phenom too contribute heavily to their offensive scheme; Young’s 29 PPG, 9.3 APG have been enough to lead the Sooners to the 23rd ranked team in the country; however, this newest AP ranking has been a far fall from grace for the once 5th ranked Sooner team. This decline in ranking has been the result of teams recognizing Trae Young’s impact as a player as someone who benefit from uncontested looks from deep teams have now begun to go over the pick and roll to prevent these open looks and teams have now begun to suffocate the other 4 players that Young plays with leading to a dismal record when young has 1 assist.

Nevada

The Wolf Pack is a team that scores like mad but lacks any real sample size. They beat Rhode Island, but they have losses to San Francisco and Wyoming. There really isn’t much of a point of pumping out stats for this team, as they haven’t really beaten anyone worthwhile. Their question is the same as every other ranked mid major: are they as good as their record?

Arizona State

The Sun Devils are yet another team that has had a dramatic fall from grace. They started the season on a 12 game winning streak, but very quickly began to lose steam, going 7-6 in their next 13. An elite offense carried them to their record, an poor defense dragged them down. Their real test is soon against Arizona. The outcome of that game will decide whether or not they are for real.

Mid Major Entrants

Middle Tennessee

Middle Tennessee is a mid major team that means business in the tournament. They made it to the tournament both of the last two years, upsetting their first round opponents, 5 seed Minnesota and 2 seed Michigan State. They have a quality defense and perfectly fine offense spearheaded by Nick King, who averages 21.4 points per game. I think that, aside from ranked mid majors, Middle Tennessee is a team that first and second round opponents should watch out for.

Vermont

The Catamounts are one of the hottest teams in college basketball. They have won 14 consecutive games and are a lot more than likely to be champions of the America East, as they are undefeated in conference play. They have a very solid defense and shoot 41% from three point range and 49.7% overall. They could be a major threat to a team that can’t play defense.

Charleston

Charleston is a team that is almost identical to Vermont in terms of defense and streak. They have won their last 8 and look primed to claim the CAA. The big difference, however, shooting percentage. The Cougars hit a poor 45.1% of their shots and a dismal 35.1% of their threes. To progress to the tournament, they will have to improve their percentages.

Northern Kentucky

The Norse are bolstered by an elite defense and serviceable offense. They sit top of the Horizon and look very likely to take the conference and storm to the tournament. They do lack three point shooting, but they seem to be doing well enough without it, so it remains to be seen how they can cope with top level competition.

Loyola-Chicago

The Ramblers are another mid-major team that plays very good defense, which has led them to the top of the MVC. They shoot extremely effectively, 51.4% from the field and 41.3% from three point range. They have five players averaging double digit points, so it should be interesting to see if they can score effectively at the tournament.

North Carolina-Greensboro

Yes, I am predicting an upset in a mid major conference. Despite Eastern Tennessee State recently going on a 17 game unbeaten run, their streak was mercilessly snapped by the Spartan, who have the 6th best defense in the country. Frankly, the game didn’t look like it could have gone any other way. Although they shoot poorly as a team, I think they can still be a threat if they make the tournament.

South Dakota

I predict another upset in the Summit Conference. Despite South Dakota State’s tournament experience, the Coyotes destroyed the Jackrabbits earlier this season, and they look like a team that is much more well rounded. Simply put, this conference could go either way, but if their earlier meeting is any indication, South Dakota will make the tournament.

Louisiana-Lafayette

The Ragin’ Cajuns have been a force in the Sun Belt, carrying an 11-1 record. They possess the 15th best offense in the country, but their defense leaves much to be desired. If they make the tournament, they will have to tighten up off the ball to stand a chance of beating a big team that they are likely considerably worse than.

New Mexico State

New Mexico State is in a similar boat to Vermont, as they are white hot and show no signs of slowing. They have the 4th best defense in the country, are undefeated in WAC play, and are on an 11 game winning streak. They are led by senior guard Zach Lofton, who averages 20 points per game and fellow senior forward Jemerrio Jones who is averaging 10.6 points and 12.7 rebounds. If they make it anywhere in the tournament, it is because of them.

Toledo

The Rockets have been a strong offensive team in the MAC West this season and look primed to take the entire conference despite a strong challenge from Buffalo. They have an elite offense but a very weak defense, and are led by senior guard Tre’Shaun Fletcher, who averages 18.7 points and 8.6 rebounds. They shoot better than 40% from three, so they could be a real team to look out for if they make the tournament.

Montana

The Grizzlies are a well rounded team that is catching heat at the right time. Undefeated in conference play and without a loss in their last 13 games, Montana is a well rounded team that doesn’t really excel in any one aspect of the game. They do shoot very poorly from three, but they still score enough to get it done in the Big Sky, so it should be interesting to see if they can do what they have to at the tournament.

Florida Gulf Coast

The Eagles are continuing to soar in the Atlantic Sun Conference, with an undefeated conference record and 13 straight wins. They shoot fairly well from the field, they rebound well, they have tournament experience; there is little not to like about FGCU this season. Dunk City’s success will hinge on their ability to adapt to better competition.

Cal-Santa Barbara

UCSB looks the likeliest candidate for the Big West this season. With a strong offense and 7 consecutive wins, they have looked very strong recently. They are led by freshman guard Max Heidegger, who is averaging 20.8 points and senior forward Leland King II, who is averaging 16.3 points and 10.8 rebounds. If they are going to sneak past UC Irvine, who has tournament experience, they will have to rely on those two.

Rider

The Broncs have been dominant in the MAAC this season, going 12-2 and haven’t lost in their last 8 games. They have an elite offense but their defense is excessively poor, and could lead to their downfall. However, I don’t see that occurring until the tournament.

Wagner

The Seahawks have been a force in the NEC this season, but they have been other worldly at home, carrying a 13-0 record in Staten Island. They have a pretty good defense and okay offense, but they really excel around the rim, and are 18th in the country in rebounds. They are led by sophomore guard Blake Francis, who is averaging 18.4 points per game. They don’t shoot very well, but I don’t think that will affect them in the NEC tournament.

Bucknell

The Bison have looked strong in their quest to return to the tournament after making the trip last season. They started this campaign poorly, with a brutal 4-7 record to begin the season, but have bounced back by going 16-2 in the span since. They are bolstered by the 42nd best offense in the country and senior forward Zach Thomas, who has taken a huge step up from his 15.6 PPG and 6.6 rebounds to 21.1 PPG and 9.3 rebounds. Their success this season depends on his contribution.

Belmont

The Bruins have dominated the OVC this season, sporting a 14-2 record in conference, including a win over fellow conference contenders Murray State. They are a very well rounded team with great wins over Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee, and, if they sneak past Murray State, they could make some noise in the tournament. They are led by junior forward Dylan Windler, who currently averages 17.4 points and 9.2 rebounds.

Winthrop

With the 39th best offense in college basketball, the Eagles are looking to soar to their 11th Big South championship. Led by senior guard Xavier Cooks and his 18 points and 8.8 rebounds per night, Winthrop look primed to return to the tournament after last year’s appearance. Already having shown their dominance over UNC Asheville with a 27 point victory, one would be hard pressed to believe that they will have a cakewalk to the tournament.

Grambling State

After an abysmal 4-12 start, one could have easily dismissed this season as a lost cause for the Tigers. However, they are currently riding an 11 game win streak where they have won by an average of about 9. They are led by sophomore guard Ivy Smith Jr., who is averaging 16.3 points, a huge step up from the 3.8 he was averaging as a freshman. It is considerably more than likely that Grambling will have to participate in a play in game to enter the tournament, but if their recent form is anything to go off of, they will be a team to be reckoned with.

Harvard

The Crimson have rebounded well from a putrid 6-10 record with an 8-1 record since. They lay claim to the 28th best defense in the country, but their offense is one of the country’s worst, ranking 326th. They are led by sophomore forward Seth Towns, who is averaging 15.8 points. They have already defeated UPenn already this season, who is the other contending team in the Ivy League, so if they are able to make it through the Ivy Tournament, they stand a good chance of winning it, but will also have to play into the tournament.

Savannah State

Simply put, the Tigers are plain awful. They post a 10-3 conference record, tied for best in the MEAC, but they have an overall record of 13-15. The MEAC is a total toss up, but Savannah State has defeated joint leader North Carolina A&T and their poor record is inflated by their 7 losses versus ranked opponents. They are a team of polar opposites: they have the nations fifth best offense but its worst defense. However, they are incredibly inefficient on offense, shooting 40.2% from the field and an eye-watering 30.6% from three point range. Their offense is led by junior guard Dexter McClanahan who is averaging 15.9 points per game. If they can take the wide open MEAC, then they will still likely have to participate in a play-in game.

Nicholls State

The Colonels have had a strong season in the Southland Conference, with a 12-2 record within it. They have the 18th best offense in the country and they have won their last five contests. They shoot very well from the field and they are led by senior guard Roddy Peters’ 19.5 points per game. Peters has bounced around the college basketball scene, starting his career in 2013-14 for Maryland, playing his next season of basketball in 2015-16 for USF, but it seems as if he has settled in at Nicholls State during his first season, with his overall shooting percentage tipping over 50% and his three point percentage spiking up from 14.3% at USF to 31.4% for the Colonels. With his experience against Power 5 opponents, Nicholls State can potentially turn some heads at the tournament.  

At Large Bids

Houston

Houston filled the spot of Oklahoma in the most recent rankings that were released due to a great run of five consecutive wins, including a win over number 5 Cincinnati. They hold an 11-3 conference record and a 21-5 record overall including another win over Wichita State. They have a middle-of-the-pack offense and a strong defense as well as a strong unit in terms of rebounding. They are led by senior guard Rob Gray and his 17.1 points per game. While they are unlikely to win their conference, they have strong enough of a resume to make the tournament.

Florida State

The Seminoles crept back into the top 25 this week after a 3 point win over Clemson. They are another strong offensive team, with the nation’s 25th best offense, but their defense lags behind. They are led by a triumvirate of scorers: junior guard Terance Mann, senior forward Phil Cofer, and senior guard Braian Angola, who combine for 40.1 points per game. They are a team that hasn’t been very bad at any stage in the season, with fairly consistent results throughout, but they did have a stretch of nine games to start the year without a loss. If that team can reemerge in time for the tournament, then Tallahassee could see a championship this season.

Nebraska

The Cornhuskers have built up a strong record this season with wins over Michigan and Minnesota, who were both ranked at the time. They don’t excel in any one area of the game, but this has only bolstered them, as they have only lost back-to-back games once in this season. While the loss to Saint Joe’s does concern me, I think that they could make it to the Sweet Sixteen provided that junior guard James Palmer Jr. keeps up his 17.7 points per game average in the tournament.

Virginia Tech

The Hokies have been a very underrated team this season that has been very hot recently. They have gone 8-4 in their last 12 games, including victories over North Carolina and Virginia, both top ten teams at the time. VATech has a very strong offense and mediocre defense that have both been enough to lead them to a 19-8 record. They shoot a spectacular 51.1% from the field and a shimmering 39.8% from three point range. With 5 players averaging double digit points and a demonstrated ability to compete with top-of-the-line competition could make them a threat come March.

UCLA

Another team that has sneakily made its presence known, UCLA is 2-1 versus ranked opponents, earning wins over Kentucky and Arizona. With the nation’s 29th best offense, the Bruins’ main concern is their inability to defend. They are led by the sterling efforts of Aaron Holiday in lieu of any of the Ball brothers, with the junior guard averaging 19.4 points per game, including a shooting percentage of 42.6% from beyond the arc. If his production falters, UCLA could be in serious trouble.

Arkansas

On a torrid 7-2 run in their last 9 games, the Razorbacks’ 26th ranked offense has been able to go buckwild recently. Arkansas also carries a 3-1 record versus ranked foes, winning all of their last 3. This is due in large part to the shimmering contributions by the backcourt, with senior guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon averaging 18.6 and 17 points respectively. While those players are clearly the team leaders, the rest of the Razorbacks can do perfectly fine by themselves, as they shoot 40% from three point range and 48.4% overall. If they can remain hot heading into the SEC tournament, they could lock up a spot in the tournament.

Alabama

With a 5-1 record versus ranked foes, Alabama seem to be in the bubble for the tournament. They are a well rounded team with a defense that is only a bit stronger than the offense, but with an 8-6 conference record, they pose a serious threat. They are led by freshman guard Collin Sexton, who averages 18.1 points per game and looks to be on the fast track to the NBA. With that kind of talent on the team, they can make it far in the tournament.

Kansas State

The Wildcats have an 8-6 conference record and a 2-4 record versus ranked foes, which isn’t too bad. They have a solid 19-8 record and a strong defense that has carried them to this record. They’ve won their last 2 games and could end up in the tournament if they stay hot, and it isn’t out of the question that they could win the Big 12. They are led by the combined 32.5 points of junior forward Dean Wade and junior guard Barry Brown.

Kentucky

While Kentucky has had a plummet from grace, posting a 1-4 record versus ranked teams, they still look primed to make the tournament. They are middle-of-the-pack in both offense and defense, but they are a strong rebounding team, 25th best in the country. They are led by freshman forward Kevin Knox and his 15.4 points per game. Their key to success will be their ability to keep the ball. They average 14 turnovers per night, and if they are able to cut that down, then they will have a much better chance at winning games.

Penn State

While this is likely my most subjective pick for the tournament, I stand firmly by it. The Nittany Lions rely on a strong defense to carry them through games, but that isn’t to say that they are a team in crisis or that they ever have been. They have a pair of wins over Ohio State this season as well as a 9-7 conference record, so they have as good of a resume as any team that could be considered for a tournament spot. Led by sophomore guard Tony Carr and his 19.6 points per game, the Nittany Lions aren’t starved for a scoring threat. If they can get the luck of the draw for their tournament matchups, we could see a whiteout in the Final Four.

Saint Bonaventure

With a win over ranked Rhode Island and an 8 game win streak, this may be the year where the Bonnies finally sneak into the tournament. They have a very balanced team that doesn’t truly excel in any facet of the game. They have wins over power fives Syracuse and Maryland, which could earn them a place in the tournament. They are led by the sterling efforts of senior guards Jaylen Adams, who has put up 20 points per game this season, and Matt Mobley, who has put up 18.8 points. This year, I think that the Bonnies will FINALLY end up in the tournament.

Boise State

I understand that it is wishful thinking to assume that not one, but two mid-majors will be given the benefit of the doubt by the committee. I truly believe that Boise State should be afforded a spot in the tournament based on their performance this season. They have a strong offense and defense and have been quite strong in the Mountain West. They are led by senior guard Chandler Hutchison and his 19.6 points per game. If they are to make the tournament, it will be based on his effort.

Creighton

The Bluejays are a team that is clearly on the bubble that could end up in or out of the tournament solely based on their performance in the Big East tournament. They hold a 19-9 record and an 8-7 conference record without a true trademark win. They have the 9th best offense in the country, which is led by senior guard Marcus Foster, who averages 19.8 points. If they make it to at least the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, I would be hard pressed to think that they will end up in the tournament.

Mississippi State

Although their body of work has been a bit weak this season, a strong case can still be made for the Bulldogs’ inclusion in the tournament this season. They have won their last two games to secure a 20 win season and have posted an 8-7 conference record. Their play this season has been on another level on their home floor, picking up 17 of their wins in Starkville. They have a very strong defense, but to secure a spot in the tournament, they will likely have to post at least two wins out of their last three games, and they will still have to show up in the SEC tournament. If they can do that, they will likely secure a spot in the tournament.

Syracuse

The Orange will likely have to string together a few more wins in their extremely difficult fixtures coming up to close out the season in order to make the tournament. They have the country’s 10th best defense, but they just don’t score. If they can’t score, they will be punished by UNC, Duke, and Clemson, who they play to close out the season, as well as a plucky Boston College team. They are led by NJ native Tyus Battle and his 19.9 points per game; they depend solely on him for offense. No Battle, no fight for Syracuse. No Battle, no tournament.

North Carolina State

The Wolfpack’s explosive offense has allowed them to post a 19-9 record so far this season. They have scored wins over Duke, Arizona, Clemson, and UNC, so there is little stopping the committee from naming NC State as a tournament entry.

USC

The Trojans are a tough team to deal with this season for the committee. They haven’t scored any big victories over ranked teams but they have been very good within their conference. They have one of the nation’s better offenses, which recently lost one of its premier scorers, Bennie Boatwright, to injury, and a serviceable defense. The bottom line is that they have to win their last three games: all in conference, including one against fellow bubble team UCLA.

Baylor

Despite a rough start to the season, the Bears have stabilized recently, having a 5-1 record in their last 6, including wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. They are very balanced, not excelling on either end, but they have been white hot recently. Those big wins over Kansas and Texas Tech could end up bringing them to the tournament.

Providence

The Friars are very close to the tournament, but their record is somewhat lacking and not likely emblematic of the team that they are. They have wins over Xavier and Villanova, which one would think would automatically grant them a tournament berth, but their record makes it very difficult. They are another balanced team that is decent on both sides of the court. They could be a team that makes noise in the tournament if they make it, much like Penn State.

Butler

The Bulldogs are another tough pick for the tournament. They have a win over Villanova, but they haven’t beaten a ranked opponent since then. They are 9-7 in the conference, which isn’t terrible, but they will need to improve that to sway the committee, as they don’t have any more big games left on their schedule until the Big East Tournament. They are a very strong team offensively and are led by senior forward Kelan Martin, who is averaging 20.9 points this season. Their tournament hopes rely on Martin almost exclusively.

Seton Hall

In a year that the Pirates were hoping that they could step up and contend, they have been very much below expectation. They were ranked at the beginning of the season, but dropped out after a loss to Rutgers and haven’t come close since. The bottom line for the Pirates is that they have to win at least three of their remaining games, or beat Villanova and another team. Their offense is fairly strong, but they lack defensive chops. Their hopes ride on the back of Desi Rodriguez, who is averaging 18.5 points this season, a big step up from last year even though he has received slightly fewer minutes.

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